Children thrive on predictability—it helps them feel at ease in the classroom and sets them up for success. Knowing what comes next is comforting to children, especially if they don't experience much predictability in their home life. However, it's important that their day is not too structured, which is why choosing a daily classroom routine over a daily classroom schedule is the first step towards creating an environment that is predictable but flexible enough to allow you to take advantage of any learning opportunities that pop up during the day.
Schedule vs. Routine: What's the Difference?
Many people use the words "schedule" and "routine" interchangeably, but there is a difference. A schedule is much more regimented and dictated by time, while a routine is more of a process or standard way of doing something and isn't as structured. Schedules often increase frustration for children because they're pulled away from an activity before they feel like they've finished or they're required to stay at an activity longer then their attention span or level of interest allows. Following a routine allows for more flexibility, which usually decreases children's frustration and any challenging behaviors that may have resulted from being rushed.
How to Increase Flexibility in Your Classroom Routine
So, how do you respond to children's need for predictability while also being flexible? It can be a delicate balance, but here are two tips you can use to create flexible predictability in your classroom:
- Don't focus on the clock as much. If children are engaged, there's nothing wrong with letting them spend a few more minutes in the art center. There's also nothing wrong with ending art time early if children have finished the activity or just aren't engaged.
- Take advantage of teachable moments. Just because you're planning on teaching children about shapes doesn't mean you can't teach them about butterflies if they see a pretty one on the way inside and are interested in it.
Keep in mind that children don't know time at this age, but they can recognize patterns. They know that they have naptime after lunch and that they go outside once they wake up. If a child doesn't enjoy a particular activity or finishes early, give them something to look forward to, such as the following: "Remember, when we're done with the literacy center, we get to go outside!"
Check out "Creating Effective Routines and Transitions" and "Utilizing Wait and Transition Times in the Classroom" for additional tips on developing a successful classroom routine and creating better transitions for your students.